The Second Oldest Ferry (Sort of)

…They Just Multiply
Chester – Hadlyme Ferry

June 14, 2008

feri.jpg[There seems to be some controversy about this post. See bottom of report and comments.]

Really? How can it be that the oldest and second oldest continuously operating ferries in the country are only 25 miles apart? Actually, that makes sense. Until I tell you that the Glastonbury – Rocky Hill Ferry began in 1655 and this one didn’t get going until 1769, over a hundred years later. What the heck was the rest of the country doing for 114 years? “Walking around?” Dopes.

I had made the Connecticut River crossing upstream a few hours earlier on the ferry up there (CTMQ Visit here!) and after a few Historic house museums in Wethersfield and Haddam, I was ready for more.

ferh.jpgThe road I took to the landing (passing Devil’s Hopyard State Park) was a bit treacherous to say the least; very skinny and windy. The little area is much nicer then the Rocky Hill or Glastonbury landings. There is a nice park here too, but also a quaint little “Hadlyme Ferry Historic District” with a few very nice old houses. My wait here was equal to that in Glastonbury, but I enjoyed this wait a bit more, just sort of walking around.

This ferry is bigger then the oldest one too – the current ferry boat is called Seldan III, measuring 65 feet by 30 feet, and can accommodate 8 to 9 cars and 49 passengers. The crossing usually takes about five minutes. An average of 100 vehicles use the ferry every day.

ferg.jpgAnd now, the requisite history: Jonathan Warner of Chester, who owned land on both sides of the river, started a ferry service in 1769. It was then known as Warner’s Ferry and utilized a raft propelled using a nail and long poles. Warner’s Ferry was the seventh ferry that was established in the Lower Connecticut River Valley. The ferry was often used throughout the American Revolution to transport supplies across the Connecticut River.

Between 1834 and 1846, Warner’s Ferry became the terminus for two turnpikes – the Hadlyme Turnpike and the Chester and North Killingworth Second Turnpike – both chartered with the hope of creating a direct, straight-line route between New Haven and Norwich.

ferk.jpgIn 1877, Warner’s Ferry came under the supervision of the Town of Chester. Soon after this, a steam-powered barge was put in service and the ferry was renamed the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry. The Connecticut Department of Transportation took over operations in 1917 when the State Legislature passed laws assigning all river crossings to the Highway Department in 1915.

There were a few things to read onboard, including a Zippy the Pinhead strip about the ferry and the rate card here to the right. Some of the rates were pretty extraordinary for 1917. Heck, a car cost 30 cents, only 10% of what it costs today. And randomly, a steamroller was a dollar. I wonder what it would cost today? And a pig cost 3 cents. Again… I wonder what that would be today. (Also interesting is that there was a “Bissell’s Ferry.” Which, of course, must have been where the Bissell Bridge is now up north of Hartford.

This shot through the window on the ferry shows the hills known as the Seven Sisters

Once safe on the Chester side, I sped off only to be held up by the Essex Steam Train. (CTMQ Visit here!) Then it was a quick lunch in quaint little Chester before several more house museums down in Old Lyme.

Good times.


When I wrote this, I wrote that I found it hard to believe the rest of the country didn’t hop on the ferry train (and stay on it) for over 100 years since the one up river. Wikipedia is to blame for the very probably wrong info about the Chester – Hadlyme ferry being the 2nd oldest continuously operated ferry in the country. Here is the entry and – here is another one. At the time of this writing, they both clearly state, “It is the second oldest continuously operating ferry service in the United States and is a designated state historical landmark.”

Mmm hm. My dad swooped in and let me know that the Woodland Ferry in Delaware is much, much older then Chester – Hadlyme. Then again, the source for this info is once again Wikipedia. Check it out for yourself. But regardless of the Wiki, I tend to believe my dad on these types of important issues. There’s that – and the fact that the blue sign above does only state “in Connecticut.”


Hours: May 1-November 30, weekdays 7am 6:45pm, weekends and holidays 10:30am-5:00pm – weather permitting
Cost: The toll for cars is $3 and for cyclists & pedestrians is $1

Actual YouTube Ferry video (with a lisp!)

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  1. Dad says

    The historic sign for this ferry only claims it is “the second oldest ferry in continuous use in Connecticut,” not the nation.

  2. Captain James Grant says

    I couldn’t let you go with out setting you straight. The Rocky Hill ferry is the oldest ferry “service” having provided crossing at the site between Rocky Hill and Glastonbury. The Chester Ferry is the second oldest ferry “In Connecticut” Warner moved the site to the Chester site. Goodspeed had a ferry service at the same time where the Swing Bridge is now or just down stream by the airport. The ferries were both built in the 1950’s and the Chester ferry boat was featured in the Movie “Parish” a worthwhile watch if you are from CT. Claudette Cobert, Tony Dowd,Carl Malden were a few of the cast.

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